Astute readers recall there have been a couple meals on this blog that veer (in my mind, anyway) dangerously into “Semi-Homemade” territory. Thankfully it’s literally been only a couple—the mini-meatloaves that use prepackaged onion soup mix, and the honey-lime chicken enchiladas for which store-bought flour tortillas are absolutely mandatory. As ashamed as I am of posting those (which I did because, as much as it pains me to admit it, they’re too good not to share), this recipe absolutely takes the cake. I practically had to put a paper bag over my head when it came time to buy prepackaged taco seasoning and taco sauce. The worst part is that I’ve tried quite a few times to make this using my own taco seasoning and taco sauce, and it’s never the same. I will never feel comfortable putting in the amounts of salt, sugar and MSG the big companies do, and it’s all necessary in this dish. This is certainly not something you’d serve at a dinner party, or even admit in public to making, but it’s a quintessential crowd pleaser—perfect for potlucks, parties, kids, bringing to someone who’s sick or has a new baby at home, and so on. A word of warning: They are addictive.
• 8-13 oz. red taco sauce (Ortega and La Victoria both make it. I wish I did not know this): $1.93
• 1 packet taco seasoning (if you just can’t bring yourself to do this, I understand, but do not expect crave-worthy results): 47 cents
• 1 cup grated cheddar or jack cheese: $1
• 8 oz. cream or neufchatel cheese: 99 cents
• 1 box jumbo shells (thank god these were on sale): $2.50
• 3 T oil: 9 cents
• 3 large green onions, sliced (garden): $0
TOTAL: $10.18/5 = $2.04/serving
Grind your meat, if it’s not pre-ground. (I probably don’t need to mention that it’s healthier and cheaper to grind your own.)
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion (but NOT the green onion; this time B. was helping and I left the room with the instructions to “add the onions”—and, lo and behold, he added all the onions, green and yellow. This is why, although instructions call for sprinkling the shells with the green onion, you don’t see any in the photos). Sauté until translucent; add the chicken and cook until no longer pink.
Add the taco seasoning, 3/4 cup water, and the cream cheese, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. (Again, ignore the green onions in the photo.)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Pour half the taco sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.
Stuff each shell with the chicken/cream cheese mixture and place in the baking dish. Drizzle the rest of the sauce on top.
Top with the cheese, and sprinkle with green onions. Cover with foil and bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.